Information Services

Case Study: Micro-credentials

The University launched a MicroMasters programme with edX in 2019 as part of a three-year research and development programme called Distance Learning at Scale (DLAS).

DLAS sought to design, create and test the University’s ability to produce and support sustainable online courses with micro-credentials. It delivered research and development for micro-credentials and at-scale masters. Local procedural changes were required to facilitate the pilots which were delivered within the parameters of the wider university regulations, governance processes and systems.

What is a micro-credential?

While micro-credentials still lack an agreed definition and a global taxonomy unlike more formal qualifications, such as the degree, general consensus is that micro-credentials are short, verified courses or learning experiences providing successful candidates with a digital certification, such as a “digital badge.”

Micro-credentials can be stacked towards larger units of competence or capability, in a format that is verified, secure and shareable with peers, employers and educational providers. They normally certify achievement at a more granular,sub-course level and differ from traditional long-form credentials such as degrees and diplomas in that they are shorter, can be personalised and provide distinctive just-in-time value. They can be earned in different ways but often through completing courses that incorporate structured learning designs with clearly evidenced outcomes.

Piloting micro-credentials

The DLAS programme piloted the delivery of two different MOOC-based micro-credentials, both offered from the Business School and delivered in partnership with edX. One of the micro-credentials we created was a MicroMasters, a programme created and patented by edX. 

What is a MicroMasters?

MicroMasters programmes are a series of graduate level courses from top universities designed to advance your career. They provide deep learning in a specific career field and are recognised by employers for their real job relevance. Students may apply to the university offering credit for the MicroMasters programme certificate and, if accepted, can pursue an accelerated and less expensive masters degree.

We launched the UK’s first MicroMasters in 2019 and offered 30 'Level 11' credits in Predictive Analytics with a pathway to the MSc in Business Analytics. It provided an opportunity to trial a model where learners studied open MOOC-like courses and were only admitted as University students to study the final assessment and allow the University to award credits earned.  The second micro-credential piloted was a Professional Certificate in Digital Marketing. While the MicroMasters created four new MOOCs plus the credited final assessment, the Professional Certificate took an existing highly successful MOOC and bundled it with a second new course. 

Academic lead, Johannes, writings on the learning glass

Applications across industry sectors

We used data to ensure that there was industry demand for the skills that learners would gain from this micro-credential. At the time of the course being launched, demand for Business/Management Analyst roles in the USA was predicted to grow by 14.3% over the next 10 years, attracting an average annual salary of $81k. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (projected growth) and Burning Glass analysis)

Skills such as Python programming and machine learning are in very high demand in virtually every business sector and a deep understanding of predictive analysis has become pivotal to business success.

The application of predictive analytics skills across industry sectors
Retail: Propensity modelling, Sales forecasting, Campaign modelling Banking: Bankruptcy prediction, Credit scoring, Fraud detection, regulatory capital modelling Investment Banking:  Stock performance prediction, company performance prediction, investment management, investment customisation
Life insurance: Mortality modelling, churn analysis, customer lifetime value, customer acquisition General insurance: Customer lifetime value, customer acquisition, customer cross-sell and up-sell Fund management: Portfolio modelling, stock modelling
Asset management: Asset monitoring, warning systems, failure prediction Digital marketing: Network size prediction, customer targeting, link prediction Customer service: Customer satisfaction, cross-sell and upsell, product recommendations

"The University of Edinburgh has proved itself to be enormously progressive when it comes to offering courses focused on data and technology, including the Data Science Graduate Apprenticeship launched with PwC. As PwC begins to use artificial intelligence as a way to solve problems in society, we would certainly be keen to see candidates with a MicroMasters in Predictive Analytics."

Thomas Pulling Partner, PwC

Credit pathways

Gaining the MicroMasters certificate was one possible route for entry to the on-campus MSc Business Analytics and the online MSc in Data Science, Technology and Innovation at the University. Successful completion of the MicroMasters did not guarantee acceptance to the Masters but, if accepted, the 30 credits awarded from the MicroMasters were recognised as credit obtained towards the 180 required for the full MSc. 

Open educational resources

Although the MicroMasters programme is no longer running, the videos from the courses are available for free. Anyone interested in the topics can still work through the resources in their own time by accessing the videos on our Media Hopper channel:

Opening the door to future micro-credential models within the University

Our experiment with this MicroMasters has enabled the University to change some of its procedures in order to open new routes to degree study for our learners, as well changing mindsets around the size and shape of a course of learning and enabling us to be in a strong position to meet the demand from learners for lifelong online learning and upskilling.

We are establishing a micro-credentials framework, and going forward the University may decide to offer a range of micro-credentials rather than defining a single format. For-credit options could include expanding current Postgraduate Professional Development (PPD) provision or standalone credited courses offered through programmes such as Data Science, Technology and Innovation. For non-credit this could include CPD or executive education programmes or bundling collections of short open courses, such as MOOCs, to form a micro-credential.  Learner demand and intelligence from our MOOC Partners indicates a sharp growth in short skills focused courses.